MY NAME is Joe Jamison. I am president of the Irish-American Labor Coalition (IALC). Our committee has been around since 1981. As I look around the room and see old friends, I realize how many of our organizations date from that time - the time of the agony of the hunger strikes, which concentrated our minds like nothing before or since. It affected us too.
In 1981 a group of union leaders - mostly of Irish birth or heritage, but not exclusively so - decided that it was time to go from pious resolutions on equality and unity to political action.
Today we are doing something that is new. But from our standpoint it's an old, time-honored tradition - 128 years old to be exact. In 1881 the very first resolution on international matters passed by the old American Federation of Labor was a resolution in support of the Land League, a thoroughly revolutionary organization that was withholding rents from the landlords of Ireland, and, if necessary, physically resisting attempts at eviction of tenant farmers.
What are we doing here today is making a beginning. This is an assembly of the Irish-American community. What an extraordinary community it is! Since the late 18th century - up to this moment - whether the struggle in Ireland was triumphant or defeated, Irish America has been a base area, a never-failing source of material, political and moral support and refuge for the Irish freedom movement in whatever form it took.
For a long time the IALC has promoted awareness of the Irish socialist republican tradition - the James Connolly tradition - here in the USA. Mike Quill and the other founders of the Transport Workers Union of America developed it the 1930s and 1940s. It died out in the 1950s. We revived it. One of the most famous lines of Connolly is: "The Cause of Labor is the Cause of Ireland." He used it in a different way, but we have borrowed it and have given it our own meaning.
It is this: We don't view the reunification of Ireland as a party-political issue or an ethnic issue or a religious quarrel. It is a democratic issue. US trade unions are in the fight for Irish unity and independence, not only because Irish people are well-represented in our movement. It's our fight because it too is a fight for democracy.
Unions are organized to win a measure of democracy in the workplace, to end the inequality of power, social injustice, and exploitation that causes suffering for scores of millions of working people.
The Irish freedom movement is also about democracy - national democracy, a phrase that is more used in Ireland than here. We should start to use it. National democracy means … well… I can't think of a better definition than the words of Easter Proclamation:
"We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible."
Let those words inspire us as we set out on what is likely to be a long road ahead.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
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